PM Heckled by Striking Teachers at Tel Aviv Business Convention

Olmert speech interrupted for several minutes after teachers assail gov't over state of public education.

Striking secondary school teachers angry over what they perceive as the government's foot-dragging in settling the more than three-week-old wage dispute repeatedly interrupted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech at an economic conference in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Olmert was forced to pause for several minutes as teachers heckled the premier before a gathering organized by the Israel Management Center at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.

"We want to raise the voice of the public education system in Israel which is decaying," one of the teachers said pointedly. "The people sitting here pay a great deal for education, and for those who do not have [money], the education is disastrous. Public education does not exist."

The prime minister replied that he would be willing to grant the teachers a wage hike though it would be conditional upon the teachers' agreeing to reforms.

"The time has come for you [teachers] to also make reforms of your work and of your behavior," Olmert said. "Don't preach morality to us."

"The state of Israel signed an agreement with 80,000 members of the [mostly primary school] teachers union, a deal that was characterized as historic, and it included a NIS 6 billion budgetary increase for the education system and teachers wages. Only one organization refused to participate in the negotiations and continues to refuse to participate in the negotiations," the premier said.

While the teacher's comments were initially met with applause from the assembled gathering, the audience grew restless as he continued his remarks. Those in attendance urged the representative to air his views at a later stage.

Gov't watchdog delays vote on injunction against teachers' strikeThe Union of Local Authorities (ULA) delayed by 24 hours Sunday morning a National Labor Court vote on an injunction against secondary school teachers` strike, following a request by Histadrut labor federation head Ofer Eini to mediate the dispute.

The Secondary School Teachers Association claimed that the ULA's involvement in the procedure stands in contrast to previous ULA board decisions, according to which it will not support back-to-work orders.

The SSTA rejects the government's claims that the strike is causing irreversible damage to students who plan to take their matriculation exams this winter, and maintains that there is no basis for issuing back-to-work orders.

Attorney Sigal Pail, representing the SSTA, said that "the Ministry of Finance behaves as if the Labor Court is the government's long arm, and as if the back-to-work orders are a fait accompli. That's why the government has not made genuine efforts to end the dispute. If the court rejects their claims, the state would have to negotiate."

The union is threatening to have the teachers resign en masse if the court issues the orders. According to SSTA Chairman Ran Erez, 3,000 teachers, most of them under 35, have thus far expressed a willingness to quit rather than comply with back-to-work orders.

He also said the union would appeal to the High Court of Justice if the labor court rules in the government's favor regarding the strike, which is in its fourth week.

And while the ULA has formally joined the government's application, not all mayors agree. Eleven of them plan to tell the court they support the teachers' strike. ULA Chairman Adi Eldar countered that he is not seeking to break the strike; the back-to-work orders would apply only to teachers involved in preparing students for the winter matriculation exams, which begin in January.